The myriad benefits of fish oil
One of the more popular supplements, fish oil, is promoted as preventive or therapeutic for myriad ailments from hardening of the arteries to Alzheimer’s disease. Although the jury is still out on some claimed benefits, many in the scientific and medical communities agree the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are legitimate tools for improving health.
Understanding exactly what fish oil is, how it might help you, and how to differentiate among the forms offered, will help you make the best choice when adding this nutrient to your health care regimen.
What is fish oil?
Derived from fatty tissues, fish oil contains substances that can be either helpful or harmful. The healthful ones include omega-3 fatty acids, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The harmful fish oils contain dioxins and furans, according to Dr. Seth Baum, nationally recognized cholesterol expert and founder of Preventive Cardiology in Boca Raton.
What does fish oil do?
The National Institutes states that fish oil is effective at reducing the levels of triglycerides in your blood. High triglyceride levels can contribute to coronary heart disease. Fish oil also is likely effective at decreasing heart disease, according to the NIH — and the American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish per week for everyone, and five servings for those with heart disease. In addition, fish oil is possibly effective at preventing or treating over 25 other diseases and conditions, according to the NIH. These include:
High blood pressure
Poor blood cholesterol
Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder in children
Atherosclerosis Kidney problems
Age-related eye disease
4 steps to get the best fish oil
Although the fish oil marketplace has dozens of companies claiming their product is exactly what you need, it’s easy to be deceived into purchasing an inferior and possibly ineffective supplement, Baum warns. “The labels on fish oil products can be misleading and it’s important to know how to read a supplement label to get the best and purest product possible,” he says.
Baum advises consumers to take these steps when reading fish oil supplement labels.
1. Read the nutrition information on the back label. Labels can be misleading, such as those that tout 1,000 milligrams of fish oil per serving. The American Heart Association recommends 1,000 milligrams of fish oil-derived omega-3s each day, which is not the same as 1,000 milligrams of fish oil. Fish oil products contain different levels of omega-3; many fish oil capsules actually contain less than 300 milligrams of omega-3.
2. Look at the number of servings on the label. Some fish oil supplements list their servings as one, two or three tablets or capsules. One fish oil product might require you to take just a single pill to get 1,000 milligrams of omega-3, while another product might require you to take far more. Not only can that get expensive, but the more pills you need to take, the less pure and more fattening the fish oil is, Baum says.
3. Look at the number of milligrams of the omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA) a single serving contains. One fish oil supplement might provide 750 milligrams of DHA and 250 mg of EPA in a single softgel, giving you the 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 you’re seeking. Another might provide only 600 milligrams of DHA and EPA in a single serving that consists of two tablets. This means you’ll need to take four tablets to get your 1,000 milligrams of omega-3. That also means the fish oil is less pure and might contain more unhealthy fats and even contaminants, Baum says.
4. Look for enteric-coated pills. Enteric coating prevents softgels from dissolving in your stomach, enabling them to be digested in the small intestine, preventing “fish burps.”
— Steve Milano, Tribune Brand Publishing